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Book Embracing Complexity: Strategic Perspectives for an Age of Turbulence

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Embracing Complexity: Strategic Perspectives for an Age of Turbulence

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    Available in PDF - DJVU Format | Embracing Complexity: Strategic Perspectives for an Age of Turbulence.pdf | Language: ENGLISH
    Jean G. Boulton(Author) Peter M. Allen(Author) Cliff Bowman(Author)

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The book describes what it means to say the world is complex and explores what that means for managers, policy makers and individuals.

The first part of the book is about the theory and ideas of complexity. This is explained in a way that is thorough but not mathematical. It compares differing approaches, and also provides a historical perspective, showing how such thinking has been around since the beginning of civilisation. It emphasises the difference between a complexity worldview and the dominant mechanical worldview that underpins much of current management practice. It defines the complexity worldview as recognising the world is interconnected, shaped by history and the particularities of context. The comparison of the differing approaches to modelling complexity is unique in its depth and accessibility.

The second part of the book uses this lens of complexity to explore issues in the fields of management, strategy, economics, and international development. It also explores how to facilitate others to recognise the implications of adopting a complex rather than a mechanical worldview and suggests methods of research to explore systemic, path-dependent emergent aspects of situations.

The authors of this book span both science and management, academia and practice, thus the explanations of science are authoritative and yet the examples of changing how you live and work in the world are real and accessible. The aim of the book is to bring alive what complexity is all about and to illustrate the importance of loosening the grip of a modernist worldview with its hope for prediction, certainty and control.

An important contribution to our understanding of complexity science and its relevance for tackling the problems being faced in todays world. (Gareth Morgan, author of Images of Organization)Enjoyable, thought provoking, and insightful. A superb introduction to complexity science for all readers! (W. Brian Arthur, author of Complexity and the Economy and Recipient of the Lagrange Prize in Complexity Science)In the social and physical sciences, complexity is everywhere, changing how we think and act. But how? This book provides an excellent overview both of the underlying concepts and also their implications for how we think about changein economics, organizations and international development. Highly recommended. (Duncan Green, Strategic Adviser, Oxfam GB)Embracing Complexity takes a critical stance in relation to dominant ways of thinking about the social world. It presents complexity thinking as a way of understanding how the world works, and challenges the dominant expectation that leaders can control the evolution of the social and the organisational world. Those willing to take a critical approach will _ nd this an important book. (Ralph Stacey, Complexity and Management Group, Hertfordshire Business School)

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Review Text

  • By JDIfan on 11 June 2017

    Bought the Kindle version but it appears as a PDF fixed size document and does not adjust to the screen. On a phone you need to scroll across each line. Waste of time! It says it is a print replica that means, it maintains the rich formatting and layout of their related print editions and offer many of the advantages of standard Kindle books. The most important feature to read on different screen sizes is the adjustment, but this has been removed. Okay on a full size screen, but not a mobile device.

  • By Guest on 7 May 2017

    A useful exploration into organisational, social and cultural change through the lens of complexity. Natural complex systems teach us how systems behave and tip into changes, so if you're interested in change-making then this book is for you.

  • By Tim Harle on 13 October 2015

    This is one of those rare books, which could usefully be read by the fast-moving frequenters of an airport bookshop, by thoughtful students on any scientific or liberal arts course, or by anyone concerned about the interconnected world in which we live.In it, the authors introduce and apply concepts from the evolving field of complexity sciences to a range of areas from corporate strategy to international development. Their central argument is that the world really is complex: ‘Complexity at its essence is not a model or a method or a metaphor, it is a description of the way things are’ (p27). Reflecting the academic rigour they bring to their topic, they note the need to be careful when abstracting ideas from physics to the living world (p9).The authors demonstrate the variety that heirs of Ross Ashby’s cybernetic approach would appreciate. Boulton is a PhD physicist, but has worked on development projects in Africa and is a community organiser; Allen provides a link with one of the pioneers of complexity thinking as a student of Ilya Prigogine, and is co-editor of the authoritative 'Sage Handbook of Complexity and Management' (Sage, 2011); Bowman is Professor of Strategy at Cranfield University, who has come more recently to complexity thinking and seen its practical application.The book begins with introductory chapters, which place complexity in historical and philosophical context. Students on the Leadership MA at Sarum College, where I am Programme Leader, found the section on lifecycles of forests particularly helpful. Even the mathematical chapter is, with due warning, readable for a non-expert.Applications discussed include management, strategy, international development and economics. The authors make links both with standard works which do not take an explicit complexity frame – such as Henry Mintzberg on strategy or Thaler and Sunstein’s nudging – and those that do, such as Eric Beinhocker’s magisterial 'Origin of Wealth' (Harvard, 2006) on economics. Two case studies from East Africa are viewed through a complexity lens.Boulton and her co-authors do not duck ethical challenges brought by complexity thinking, noting that ‘There is nothing intrinsically “good” about the outcomes of self-organization’ (p45).One helpful feature of the book for the non-specialist (who hopefully constitute the majority of readers) is a glossary, with dozens of brief definitions. Words and phrases included in the glossary are printed in bold throughout the text.A book of such a wide-ranging nature inevitably invites challenges about what is missing. The authors choose to write with more of a sociological focus than a psychological one, so Stephen Guastello’s work in the latter field is not mentioned. Could they have referred to Mary Uhl-Bien’s work on complexity leadership theory, or Tsoukas and Chia’s writings which bridge the worlds of philosophy and practice? The discussion about strict differences between self-organization and emergence (p45) might have referenced Lichtenstein's 'Generative Emergence' (OUP, 2013).The closing chapter is made up of a conversation between the authors (an unacknowledged nod to Patricia Shaw’s work on conversations in complexity?). In a section encouraging an approach of mindsets and principles, not tools, the practical Cliff Bowman asks, ‘What can we do?’ Answering his own question, with reference to co-author Peter Allen, he replies, ‘we need to be more humble’ (p233). A useful summary of the whole book.

  • By Keri on 5 September 2015

    This excellent and comprehensive book has many fine features.First, I really appreciated the range of approaches with which the material and ideas were presented; from theory, to case-studies to conversations between the co-authors.Secondly, whilst the book can be regarded as a comprehensive whole, with a continuing storyline, it is also open to ' pick and mix'. That is to say, for example, that those readers who do not wish to immerse themselves in some of the more detailed aspects of complexity theory will still be able to understand and enjoy the application of these ideas to topics such as international development and strategy.Thirdly, as a consequence of the point above, the book will be of interest, value and relevance to those who are totally new to this area and those who are highly knowledgeable and experienced.Fourthly, the authors are clearly acutely aware of the risk of hypocrisy; that in challenging, for example, a Newtonian and mechanistic interpretation of the world which can be overly rigid then they themselves may drift into rigidity. In my words, they realise that it is all too easy to construct a platform of understanding which then becomes a prison. The authors therefore stress the need for complexity to be embraced as an attitude of mind rather than a narrow prescription of how to see the world.Fifthly, in seeking to convey the tone, perhaps the spirit of this book I suggest that it elegantly combines wisdom with humility. That is to say, it is evidently the product of profound and challenging research, yet at the same time an openness to ideas, possibilities and an eagerness to learn. The authors clearly seek to embody that which they describe.

  • By Sophy Robinson on 11 September 2015

    I am not an academic, and I found physics A'level a torment, but Embracing Complexity explains the background physics and mathematical modelling in an interesting and comprehensive way so that the later sections on the implications of Complexity Theory are set in a useful context. If, like me, you find your life besieged by unintended consequences, and that planning and using your fine mind and logic doesn't seem to make an uncertain world any less certain, then this is the book for you. It is a very clear explanation of how uncertainty, fluidity and ambiguity is the 'new normal' - well actually it is the old normal, it's just we weren't educated to think that things like science, maths and strategy wouldn't make the world go round and more predictable.The sections on management and strategy will be of interest to anyone involved in organisational life: leaders, managers or consultants. But as you pass through these chapters and onto those on international development and economics, the book adopts a more politicised approach with observations on capitalism, free markets, inequality and social policy. My views happen to be largely aligned with the authors, and there are many enjoyable and somewhat contentious arguments explored. I went to a launch event at the Institute of Physics last night and Jean and Peter's talk led to some lively, and at one point rather provoking, debates. I recommend you read the book and try to go to one of Jean Boulton's talks - you won't be disappointed!


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